Gentle Shepherd Metropolitan Community Church, Phoenix, Arizona
“As time went on, Sniff and Scurry arrived early each morning inspecting the area to see if there had been any changes from the day before. One morning they discovered there was no cheese. They weren’t surprised. Since Sniff and Scurry had noticed the supply of cheese had been getting small every day, they were prepared for the inevitable and knew instinctively what to do. The mice did not overanalyze things. To the mice, the problem and the answer were both simple. The situation at Cheese Station C had changed. So Sniff and Scurry decided to change. They were quickly off in search of New Cheese.
Later that same day, Hem and Haw arrived at Cheese Station C. They had not been paying attention to the small changes that had been taking place each day, so they took it for granted their Cheese would be there. They were unprepared for what they found. Hem hollered, “Who Moved My Cheese?” Finally he put his hands on his hips, his face turned red, and he screamed at the top of his lungs, “It’s not fair!”
[Excerpts from pages 32-33 of “Who Moved My Cheese” by Spencer Johnson, M.D.]
And immediately Jesus left the Synagogue, and entered the house of Simon and Andrew, with James and John. Now Simon’s mother-in-law lay sick with a fever, and immediately they told Jesus of her. And Jesus came and took her by the hand and lifted her up, and the fever left her; and she served them.
That evening, at sundown, they brought to Jesus all who were sick or possessed with demons. And the whole city was gathered together about the door. And Jesus healed many who were sick with various diseases, and cast out many demons, and would not permit the demons to speak, because they knew him.
A person with leprosy came beseeching Jesus, and kneeling said to him, “If you will, you can make me clean.” Moved with pity, Jesus reached out and touched the person and said, “I will; be clean.” And immediately the leprosy went away and the person was made clean.
We have spent a lot of time talking about prayer, all the while saying that prayer really has little to do with talk and that talking is not what prayer is about. We’ve talked about prayer as connection to our “source,” our roots, our self. We’ve talked about prayer as connection to God and as connection to others around us. We have talked about prayer as abandoning ourselves in trust to the reality of the present moment. This is what is – surrender to it – give yourself to it. We’ve talked about prayer as the art of healing in the fifth part of this series. In that series, we learned that healing is not “recovery from.” Rather, healing is accepting the changes that are. Healing is coming into harmony with what is really happening. Healing is wholeness. This wholeness, this harmony, I believe, comes through prayer. Not prayer as words upon words. We’ve all prayed those prayers ≠ words upon words upon words ≠ where at the end nothing was hardly different, but we are talking about prayer as the willing of good. It is taking the best that is in you and intending well for yourself, for others and for all creation.
In part five of this series, I asked how many of you had prayed for your needs and I’m assuming everyone of you said you did. You’ve all prayed for something in your life, of that I am sure. But how many of us have said to our hands “thank you” for the work they do? If prayer is the willing of good, then surely we’re going to pray for ourselves; we are going to offer thanks for our hands. Meister Eckhart, a 14th century mystic said “If the only prayer you’ve ever said is thank you, it would suffice.” But if we are going to reach the fullness of prayer, I would tell you that the willing of good alone is not enough because we must not only will good. True prayer, sometimes, means doing good.
In our reading from Who Moved My Cheese we actually get to the crux of the story ≠ what the story is all about. It is the basis of Buddhist philosophy. It is the deepest of truths. It is a reality that we all live with and it is the center of an epiphany exploration ≠ our journey of prayer. “What,” you ask, “might that be?” Everything changes! That is the crux of the story and it is the deepest truth in life. Everything changes.
In our story, Sniff and Scurry, the two little mice, arrive at Cheese Station C where they have been feasting on the cheese that has been feeding their life for a long time now, but they had been noticing that the cheese kept getting smaller and smaller. They had been paying attention. So when they arrive this morning, they saw that there was no cheese left. They could have gotten all upset but they had been noticing the changes so they were not surprised. They did not over-analyze things. To the mice, the problem and the answer were both simple. The situation had changed. So Sniff and Scurry decided to change. They looked out into the maze, then Sniff lifted his nose and nodded to Scurry, who took off running through the maze as fast as he could. They were quickly off in a hurry in search of new cheese.
Hem and Haw, the little people, who have human emotions and judgments get to Cheese Station C and they commit drama! Lots of drama! They did not expect the cheese to be gone. They hadn’t paid any attention. The cheese was theirs and they were certain of it. They had convinced themselves that nothing would ever change and they ignored reality. They had not been paying attention to the small changes that had been taking place each day. The were unprepared for what they found and Hem yelled, “It’s not fair!” This is “Hip Action Prayer.”
We have been told that there are only two types of prayers. There is the first type of prayer when everything is fine. “Oh Lord, hearest my prayerÖ” The second type of prayer is when everything is not fine. You walk in the door, you slam it shut, you drop to your knees, you slide into the bed and you say “God Help!” Actually there is some type of truth to that. Real prayer often needs Hip Action to work.
There are two forms of Hips Action prayer however. There is the form that Hem and Haw practiced. “It’s not fair, it’s not fair, IT’S NOT FAIR! Who took my cheese? Who took my life? Who took my relationship? Who took my job? Who did ALL of this to me? How dare they? That is hip action prayer, ineffective, but still hip action prayer. Or there is another kind of hip action prayer. It’s the type of prayer that Sniff and Scurry practiced because they didn’t stop to analyze it too much. They put their hips in motion and did something with what was going on in their life. That may sound simplistic, and yet, there is great truth in it. That is exactly what today’s Gospel reading talks about.
In the Gospel, a leper comes to Jesus and says “If you will, if you will it, if it’s what you want, you can make me clean.” Jesus touches the leper and said “I will, I want it, be clean.” The leper’s skin recovered. You see, there are philosophies all over the world that talk about the power of life that is in us. Daoism is one of them. It talks about the energy of life as Chi. Chi is something that is centered within our being and when we are in touch with it, it can flow through us and out of us. I think Jesus was in touch with his Chi.
In the book Tai Chi as a Path of Wisdom, Lynda Myoki Lehrhaupt, I think gives the best description of what it means to flow with the energy of life to understand your Chi.
“To appreciate our life means to be able to welcome both the storms and the gentle breezes of everyday life as part of living a life that matters.”
I believe that the energy Jesus gave was his Chi. Not only by willing the good. Jesus just never said to the person “You will be clean,” he did something else before he ever said “this is the depth of what I want.” HE TOUCHED THE PERSON! He did the good.
I have no idea what leprosy was in that context. The truth of matter is that it was a disease that covered many, many different skin problems and it was all called leprosy. Who knows what it was? What I do know is this. The true healing, the true holiness of that moment was not that his skin was restored, it was that he was restored to a sense of wholeness. Imagine what it would be like to live in a culture that determined your worthiness as a person, your worthiness to God by whether or not you had a blemish on your skin. People would cross the street when this man walked by. Jesus touched him instead. I believe the same even happened for Jesus.
Do you remember the first time you met someone who was really different than you? From a different race? Perhaps from a different ethnicity, country, genderÖa really different gender? Do you remember what it was like when you first encountered that person? It was hard! When we encounter what is different from ourselves it is hard to be okay with it. It is hard to just say “All right!” I just don’t think that it was the leper who was healed, I think Jesus got past some of his own cultural hang-ups there. You see this is the first time in the story of Jesus’ life that he ever touched a leper but it is not the last. As you can see, healing is also reaching past taboos, personal fears or whatever it is that confines you. There are always new forms of this taboo. Taboos around homosexuality, taboos around what roles women should or shouldn’t have, taboos around people living with AIDS. There are often taboos that need to be reached past.
You see we can convince ourselves that we don’t need to continue to work for equality and justice for people. But that is not true. The best thing we can do is reach beyond our taboos. We can embrace, them, pray for them, and then the real healing comes when we release whatever blocks us. Maybe you’re afraid of somebody whose skin color is different. Maybe you’re afraid of somebody who doesn’t speak the same language as you do. Real healing is reaching past what you fear and embracing what is there. Jesus and the leper connected in touch.
There really are two forms of Hip Action Prayer. Hem and Haw prayed one way: “I am not going to be removed from this spot. I will die before I leave.” You know what? They had a death sentence right then. If you pray without willing to be moved you will not be moved. Or you can pray the Sniff and Scurry method. You can put your hips in motion. Get involved! Do something about it. Sometimes the willing of good is not enough. Sometimes to pray, we must embrace, we must touch what we fear most and only then do we pray. Taoism teaches that to embrace the darkness and the light, the good and the bad, the positive and the negative, what you fear and what you love, is nothing more than embracing what really is because it’s all there.
Hip Action Prayers that involve only hands on the hips never work. The ones that involve you getting into the mix of your life, the good and the bad, into the mix of the world, into the challenges we face and even into the cause and the fray of what is just and right and then loving the people on the other side of the line – they work. As long as you stand hands-on-hip in Cheese Station C, your prayer can never be answered. You’ll never have a prayer of finding cheese that feeds your life. You cannot get back what is already gone ≠ EVER! Instead you must embrace it. It’s easier because if you do, you can put on your running shoes, stick your nose out into the maze, look around and take off.
If you wish to move beyond your doubts. If you wish to overcome your fears. If you wish to pass by social taboos. Words are not enough. You need to offer a few hip action prayers as well. As the poet Kabir said, “Do you have a body? Don’t just sit on the porch. Go out and walk in the rain.”
May each of us, starting today, begin to offer the best of us and do some hip action prayers.
Amen, Shalom and Blessed Be.
Rev. Brad Wishon was called in 1997 to serve as Pastor of Gentle Shepherd MCC, now Metropolitan Community Church Phoenix, in Arizona. An LGBT activist, he was named to Echo Magazine’s Hall of Fame in 2012 and named its Man of the Year in 2004.
In 2004, as Massachusetts became the first state to offer same-sex marriage, he was part of a local effort by clergy to help couples to try to obtain marriage licenses. When they were denied, he and others performed weddings for about 40 couples.
He was involved with No Longer Silent: Clergy for Justice, a Phoenix-area group with the mission of sharing an alternative religious perspective on homosexuality. He promoted the Phoenix Declaration, which calls for the end of LGBT discrimination.